Striking union at Escondida copper mine agrees to talk

Workers firm on need for higher wages
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 02/15/2017
Workers from BHP Billiton's Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine, gather outside the company gates during a strike, in Antofagasta, Chile, on Feb. 11, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Ricardo
Workers from BHP Billiton's Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine, gather outside the company gates during a strike, in Antofagasta, Chile, on Feb. 11, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Ricardo

SANTIAGO/ANTOFAGASTA, Chile (Reuters) — Striking workers at Chile's massive Escondida copper mine have accepted a government invitation to try to resume dialogue with mine operator BHP Billiton, the union and government said on Tuesday.

A BHP spokeswoman said the company also had received the government invitation and was still evaluating it.

Carlos Allendes — leader of the 2,500-strong member union that has been on strike since Thursday — said it had received an invitation from the government's labor directorate and agreed to meet on Wednesday.

The meeting is not a return to mediation but an attempt to agree to return to the negotiating table, Allendes said.

News of a possible path to resolution of the conflict was weighing on the copper price, traders said. Expectations of an extended stoppage at the world's biggest copper mine have helped drive the copper price to more than 20-month highs.

"We hope that the procedure ... allows the parties to come closer and for the strike to be resolved as soon as possible," said government spokeswoman Paula Narvaez.

Although the government is keen for a quick resolution, the two sides were far apart when talks ended in failure earlier this month, and the union has indicated it is prepared for a long strike.

The workers are demanding a significantly higher salary increase and bonus than the company says it can offer. There also is a dispute over whether new and long-time employees should be on equal footing. 

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